By Professor Wayne Powell, Principal and Chief Executive, Scotland’s Rural College

IT sometimes feels like you have to look quite hard to find the positive case for Scotland’s rural economy. The shadow cast by Brexit is hardly surprising, as there is barely a policy area on these islands that will not be affected by our impending departure from the European Union. But the facts don’t support the idea of a rural economy in decline.

Industries driving growth in Scotland – such as whisky, aquaculture and tourism – are inextricably linked to the rural economy. Food and drink exports from Scotland are at a record high. Recent research from the Scottish Government shows that overall gross value added (GVA) growth for Scotland’s rural economy has been positive since 1997 and that both employment and activity rates in rural Scotland are higher than in urban areas.

Between 2007-15 the areas classified as “Mainly Rural Scotland” and “Islands and Remote Scotland” recorded the strongest economic growth in the country, up 24 per cent and 19 per cent respectively . While the growth rates may vary within these areas, the overall picture is something to feel positive about.

There is more. We are living in a time of immense technological transformation, which is changing how we live our lives. Science and technology are unearthing solutions that can help tackle food security, energy shortages and climate change. Robotics, artificial intelligence and biotechnology are driving us towards new outcomes across the rural spectrum that would have been unthinkable just two decades ago, let alone when I entered the workforce in the 1970s.

Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, has praised the “incredible legacy of centuries of knowledge and experience” in our rural landscape. He is right to do so. The industry has adapted to changing circumstances – political, economic or otherwise – time and again and it will be no different now.

It is my vision for Scotland’s Rural College to become a global leader in research and innovation and a fully integrated partner with industry, driving the growth strategy for Scotland’s rural economy. To make this vision a reality, I’ll be at the forefront of the college becoming Scotland’s rural university, a new model that brings skills and industry closer together, one that will greatly benefit our economy.

When research, business and skills unite, the result is fresh insight and even greater innovation. Those things, in turn, drive further growth.

The British dairy industry, for example, has benefited by more than £400 million from our world-leading genetics research. The work of our scientists, who utilise data from the famous Langhill dairy herd, resulted in Scotland’s Rural College being honoured with a Queen’s Anniversary Prize.

Our innovation was on display recently at the Royal Highland Show, where our unique mobile sensory lab attracted more than 2,000 visitors. This brand new, state-of-the-art facility is primed to play a key role in the food we eat, with data generated set to influence genetic improvement for the development of healthy and tasty foods.

The list is extensive and we make a point of transferring this knowledge into our course content, so our future workforce is adept with the latest technology before even entering the market. This will be hugely important as we seek to grow Scottish exports, especially in the food and drink industries, allowing us to claim with authority that we are a global leader in the sector.

Scotland’s rural economy has remarkable talent and potential. If we can all work together, I have every faith that we will all be active participants in harnessing the vast potential of Scotland’s rural economy to the benefit of a bold, green future.